You have probably seen on the news or online that a new vaccine has been created to protect against the H3N2 influenza virus, the virus that caused the flu outbreak among dogs in the Chicago area during the Spring of 2015. While the major outbreak seems to have subsided, we are still seeing a dog every month or so, who has tested positive for the H3N2 virus or that we highly suspect has the virus. Symptoms of this strain of influenza are a cough, fever, nasal discharge, lethargy, and lack of appetite. The virus can make dogs more susceptible to pneumonia. During this past spring, about 10% of the infected dogs we saw developed pneumonia and a small number in the Chicago area developed severe respiratory symptoms and died. We realize that this is very scary to most dog owners and many of us want to do whatever we can to protect our canine companions, but that does not mean every dog needs to get every vaccine.
For all of our patients, we make vaccine recommendations based on risk factors and lifestyles. We are currently recommending the H3N2 vaccine for dogs who have close contact with other dogs. This could be through doggy daycare, a kennel, visiting the dog park, going to dog shows, training classes or even getting groomed frequently. Some kennels and daycares are now requiring pets to be vaccinated against the flu. This is a completely new vaccine, if your pet was vaccinated last year, it was against the H3N8 strain because that was the only vaccine against canine influenza that was available at the time. If you would like your pet to receive this vaccination, he or she would receive an initial vaccine and then another in 3-4 weeks. What about the original flu vaccine protecting against the H3N8 strain? Throughout the outbreak, a small number of pets tested positive for H3N8, but the more prevalent strain in our area is the H3N2. There are some kennels or daycare that may require your pet to be vaccinated against both strains, but if your pet has contact only with dogs in this area, we believe the H3N2 virus is what they are most at risk for contracting.
Having said all that, we would still like to remind everyone that no vaccine is 100% effective in preventing illness. Once vaccinated, it is still possible for your pet to get the flu, but it would be a much milder case, with less severe symptoms. There are also many other viruses out there that can cause a cough, such as Bordatella or Parainfluenza, and again these types of things are most often spread when pets have a lot of contact with other animals, so it is extremely important to have your pet up to date on their vaccinations BEFORE they go into any high-risk situations.